Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
What did we learn about the team in the Desert Frendlies?
After two weeks in Tucson the Timbers return to practicing in Portland this week. While training in the Copper State, the Timbers chalked up two wins and a loss against MLS competition and a win against the USL PDL side FC Tuscon.
The Timbers opened the proceedings with a 3-1 win over the rebuilding Colorado Rapids. Both teams played their likely regular season starters for the first half of the match before bringing in the reserves for the second 45'. Diego Valeri scored the TImbers' only goal of the first half while Kalif Alhassan and Jose Adolfo Valencia scored in the second. (Highlights here)
Against Sporting Kansas City, the Timbers once again brought out their first team for the first 45', holding Kansas City scoreless, before again introducing the reserves at halftime. Sporting staggered their substitutions, scoring the only goal of the match in the 54th minute with a mixture of starters and reserves on the pitch. (Highlights here)
In the Timbers' last match against a team from Major League Soccer, the Timbers got a preview of their Cascadia rivals, the Seattle Sounders. The Timbers once again brought on a line up that looked like a potential starting eleven for the first week of the season and kept them on for the first 60', while the Sounders fielded a hodgepodge of starters, reserves, and trialists. The Timbers controlled play for most of the game, but were only able to score once when Mikael Silvestre knocked home a loose ball in the Seattle box. (Highlights here)
Finally, the Timbers played their final friendly in Tucson against the local PDL side, FC Tucson, beating them 3-0. The Timbers started a side made up of their reserves with goals coming from Hanyer Mosquera, Sebastian Rincon, and Steven Evans. (Highlights unavailable)
With a new coach and a host of new players, this was our first chance to really see them in action, so what did we learn from the Desert Friendlies?
Timbers fans got a couple of good looks at what the team's starting lineup is likely to be on day 1 in 2013, and it doesn't look half bad. Kalif Alhassan in particular looks to be on a mission to make that team. After seeing infrequent flashes of brilliance in amongst two years of overall underperformance, Alhassan appeared vastly more capable defensively, which helped legitimize his presence on the field. That, coupled with the vision and passing ability we've come to expect from him, could help him establish a place in the lineup as a deep-lying playmaker.
Bright Dike's ACL injury -- that's two serious injuries he has had now during Timbers preseasons. I hope he keeps his serious-sports-injury-surgery punch card -- his next one will be half-price.
Before the Timbers went down to Tucson they had not yet implemented Caleb Porter's tactics and instructions against someone not in Timbers Green. These last 4 games have given players a quiet confidence that they can play in that system and that it works with results in 3 out of the 4 games. Another positive is that CP now knows a lot more about the players he has on the team and can better make informed decisions about formations and roster additions.
Injuries are always going to be a negative especially when it happens to someone with promise like Dike. Some of the other negatives were the play of David Horst and how shaky he looked trying to run Porter's system and how timid Nagbe looks at different points in games. Overall Portland returns with a lot more positives to build on than negatives to fix and this is always a good thing.
There's still a bit of preseason rust, but the center back pairing of Mikael Silvestre and Andrew Jean-Baptiste was definitely one of the upsides of the friendlies in Tucson. Jean-Baptiste brought speed and physicality to the back line and looked like he could be ready for regular first team play this season. Meanwhile Silvestre looked composed on the ball and was able to bail his center back partner out on a couple of occasions when inexperience got AJB in trouble. Of course, we don't know for sure yet if this pairing will get to appear in the regular season, as Silvestre remains unsigned.
All that nice passing and possession play is worth nothing if its culmination is a cross from the wings that sails over everyone in the box and out of bounds on the other side of the field. Too often, that was how the Timbers' attacking plays ended and it is an area of the game that will need some work before the season begins.
After rumors of a bad attitude and low work rate followed Diego Valeri north from Argentina, Timbers fans had reason for concern. However, with the first games of the preseason under his belt, Valeri has looked like he could be worth every penny of his designated player salary cap hit. After scoring in the team's preseason opener off an audaciously curled free kick, Valeri remained the driving force behind the Timbers' most successful offensive moves for the remainder of their time in Arizona. Equally important, however, is that it appears that he has bought in to Caleb Porter's system of pressure and possession.
While he saw action with the Timbers first team and appeared to buy in wholeheartedly to Caleb Porter's system of high pressure all over the field, Ryan Johnson just could not find his scoring touch in the team's first two games despite several chances to put the ball away. In his time with Toronto and San Jose, Johnson looked like a streaky striker, prone to high hills and low valleys, and his misses both in Tucson and while on duty with the Jamaican national team seemed to indicate that he is in a low valley indeed. Hopefully Johnson will warm up by the start of the season, but with the hot hand (foot?) of Bright Dike out the Timbers will need to lean on him for the first half of the season.
What were your take away's from the Timbers time in Tucson?